One of Kogod’s core tenets is that students learn best by doing—a belief that has not wavered through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the safety precautions driving the AU community and many DC employers out of classrooms and offices and into their homes, Kogod students have continued to connect with real companies in the DC area, exploring their interests while answering real-world corporate needs.
This past spring and summer, six groups of students—ranging from first-year undergraduates to second-year MBA students—worked virtually as pro bono consultants for six growing small businesses in the DC area through the Kogod in Practice initiative, to help these companies solve real business problems. Through these pro bono projects, students developed close working relationships with local companies while developing the practical skills that will give them a leg up in the job market.
“The goal of the projects is to give students hands-on, résumé-worthy experience as well as the tools and the skills required to be successful in any industry while working with real clients,” says the Kogod director of strategic partnerships, Angela Petras.
Students enter into the pro bono projects with the solid business foundation provided by their Kogod coursework and a campus support team, including a Kogod engagement manager–someone who supports both the client and the student team on a regular basis throughout the project, to guide on business deliverables and help navigate a situation. The AU Consulting Club provides training and orientation, as well as refreshers on the tips and tools students may need before their first client meeting.
The most carefully considered component of the preparation process, however, is the assembly of the team itself. Every student brings their own interests, experiences, and knowledge to the table—creating a well-rounded consulting team, much like any found in consulting offices across the world.
“This was my first project, and it could have been a challenge if I didn’t have the support of my team,” says Javon Darrien, a sophomore CLEG major with a Kogod minor in leadership management.
“It’s been great getting to know my teammates,” adds Kyle Olsen, a junior international studies major with a Kogod minor in business administration. “We’ve developed a friendship that will last for years to come.”
Javon and Kyle are just half of the dream team that worked with the client Great Dwellings, a DC start-up hospitality firm.
“Great Dwellings offers a non-traditional way to find a place to stay when you’re traveling,” says Lisa Francis, a Kogod MBA student and assistant director of admissions at Kogod. “It’s been a really interesting time to take a look at a business in the travel industry, given where we are right now. It’s been a challenge, but it has been so rewarding because what better time to reevaluate an industry than when it is having a moment of reflection?”
Students who participate in these pro bono projects solve a range of business issues for their clients, including marketing strategy, setting up an operations infrastructure, and financial modeling.
“This project offered me completely different opportunities from week to week,” says Scott Schneider, a second-year MBA student. “There is no one-size-fits-all in consulting, but we were able to use the skills we previously learned about communication and anticipating the needs of a client and apply it here.”
“We were given the runway to come up with our own process and our own cadence of deliverables,” adds Francis. “We really drove the ship, and as long as the client was happy and gave us great feedback, we continued to move forward.”
At the end of the three months, students held a final client meeting where they presented key takeaways, how to maximize their recommendations, a timeline, and how the recommendations can work together. Students on the Great Dwellings team even suggested new roles to hire for, down to the nitty-gritty of when the new hires would be promoted to a managerial level, who they would report to, and what their responsibilities would be if they started the very next day.
“The goal of the project was for the team to study the viability of our company entering into a new business segment and how to best go about this,” says Karl Scarlett, founder of Great Dwellings. “The team far exceeded our expectations. They have given us insights and perspectives that we certainly would not have had on our own.”
Not only did the students navigate a professional business relationship while providing “100% satisfaction” to the client, but the pro bono project also offered a way for students to be more involved with Kogod and the DC community, no matter where they were located across the globe this summer.
“This began during the tail end of my freshman year when I was looking for more ways to get involved,” says Darrien. “I’ll always value this.”
“Business school is experiential,” says Francis. “Any opportunity you have to apply what you learn in the classroom you should take and build your portfolio. There is no reason not to do it.”
Get involved with Kogod’s pro bono projects and take on DC’s next big start-up as your first consulting client! Email Angela Petras to learn how you can get started.